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Employees honored with theatre awards

Lantern Staff

The Mary Jane Teall Theatre (MJT) awarded two Butler employees for the work they did in the theatre production of The Father. 

The MJT is made up of members of the Wichita theatre community as well as theatre audiences, according to Phil Speary, dean of Academic Support Services. 

Speary, a Wichita native, has worked in over 200 productions as an actor and director. The Father, written by playwright Florian Zeller, which also premiered in 2012, is a dramatic play told from the perspective of a father who has dementia. 

“The Father is a fascinating play—very challenging, but very rewarding to do…,” Speary said. “You don’t know what it’s reality, what is real. He has a very close relationship with one of his two adult daughters, but as the play proceeds, he can’t remember who she is. He mistakes other women for her.”  

Peterson has had many theatre roles. Among them, he has played Amadeus and Charley in Where’s Charley? For the role in The Father, this was a challenging role for Peterson. 

“I needed to play it as if he really didn’t realize what was happening to him,” Peterson said. “That he was the same…and so it was a challenge in terms of making that believable because you can’t play crazy. You can’t play ‘I’m losing it.’ You have to play it ‘I am indeed got all eight cylinders,’ and then the script, the writing takes care of the rest of it for you.” 

Peterson, also a Kansas native, enjoyed theatre from a young age and at the age of four, he began performing in front of audiences.  

“I would make shadow boxes and little theatres out of old shoeboxes and make cut-out figures from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and have them be my actors,” Peterson said. “My father was a music teacher and would be responsible for having programs for regional conventions, and I was always performing at those.” 

Being acknowledged by the Mary Jane Teall Theatre Awards for both Peterson and Speary is an honor. 

“At this point in my career to be acknowledged by fellow thespians that my work was good,” Peterson said. “It was really nice that they said, ‘You did well,’ so it meant everything to me at this point.”  

Peterson also referred to this moment as “a highlight of my career.” He was also acknowledged as the Ruth McCormick Educator Award in 2017.  

The Father is also a 2020 film starring Anthony Hopkins as an elderly father with dementia. 

“I would really honestly say that Bob (Peterson’s) performance is really of the caliber that (Anthony) Hopkins gives,” Speary said. “Bob is a brilliant actor, and one of the reasons that I wanted to do the play as soon as I read it…. {for} people in the area, particularly people at Butler, to have the opportunity to see what a brilliant actor Bob is.” 

For Speary, who is also a part of the MJT Awards Hall of Fame in 2002, this acknowledgement is “gratifying.” 

“Getting that affirmation from your colleagues and audience members is nice,” Speary said who has also been awarded Best Director five times out of MJT’s nearly 27-year history. “It matters to me that a production like The Father really moved an audience.” 

Theatre audiences can next see Speary direct Anton Chekov’s play, Three Sisters, this spring. For Peterson, audience members can see the production of Cleopatra this week premiering on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. In the spring, Peterson will direct the Children’s Theatre.  

For more information about tickets, contact the Box Office: 316-322-3262.  


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